Bishop Andrew: The Center of a Firestorm
by Lisa Dorward
With information and excerpts from “A Dream Deferred: African Americans at Emory and Oxford Colleges, 1836 – 1968, Full Exhibition Text.” Developed by Dr. Mark Auslander and his students, Kaycee Hilson, Lydia Maestra, Keith McGill, James Steele, and Justin White, in “Cultures of the Africa Diaspora” (Antrohopology 385R). Fall 2000, Oxford College of Emory University. Used by Permission.
Some historical accounts have portrayed Bishop Andrew as only a reluctant and accidental slaveholder who passively acquired a few slaves through marriages to his successive wives. However, the historical record suggests a more complicated story.
The 1830 Census of Athens, Clark County, Georgia lists Andrew as owning two slaves, one male between the age of ten and twenty-four, and one female between the age of thirty-six and fifty-five.” (Auslander 11)
When the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) was founded in the United States in 1784, the church officially opposed slavery. Slavery was condemned as a “moral evil” that was contrary to the principles of Methodism. Following the Revolutionary War, numerous Methodist missionaries toured the South trying to convince slaveholders to free their slaves – and some did. The number of free blacks increased markedly at this time, especially in the Upper South, but the trend did not last long. When the cotton gin came onto the scene, it revolutionized cotton production and put slave labor more in demand than ever. Manumissions nearly ceased.
While Methodist clergy in the North remained steadfastly opposed slavery, and many even joined the abolitionist movement, Methodists in the South were more pliable on the issue – not only because many were slave owners themselves, but even those who did not own slaves and who were aligned with the church’s anti-slavery position, claimed that an anti-slavery stance would cost them the support of the slave-holding plantation owners.
The controversy continued to brew for decades. In 1834, James Osgood Andrew was elected bishop and became a Trustee of the newly formed Emory College. Although it was the official policy of the MEC that bishops, even in the South, could not own slaves, many did. At the General Conference of 1840, the matter of Bishop Andrews owning slaves was examined, but he was not expelled. However, the abolitionist movement continued to gain momentum and, by the time the General Conference of 1844 was approaching, Bishop Andrew had become the focal point of the heated debate – particularly with respect to his ownership of a slave named Kitty.
On April 12, 1844, just before the MEC General Conference was going to convene, Bishop Andrew “legally deeded fourteen slaves to his friend, Augustus Longstreet, President of Emory College, for the token price of ten dollars. After the Conference, Longstreet quickly deeded the labor of the slaves back to Andrew, but the legal fiction was maintained that Andrew did not ‘own’ these slaves.” (Auslander 11)
The maneuver was not successful, however. The Conference voted 110 to 69 on a resolution to dispose Andrew as bishop until his connection to slavery had ended. The southern clergy, many of whom were also slave owners, split from their Northern counterparts and formed an independent body, which they called the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
“Andrew continued to own slaves until at least 1860, when he is recorded as owning eleven persons. He presumably owned slaves until Federal troops entered the Selma, Alabama area near the end of the Civil War. According to the 1850 Slave Schedule of the Federal Census for Oxford, Newton County, Bishop James Osgood Andrew owned twenty-four persons at that time.” (Auslander 11)